Apologies to ThickCulture readers for all the sports talk recently. I’ll get more sociological again soon. I promise. I wrote the following as an email to my pal and historian of American sports, Dan Hawkins, but thought I’d post it here to get a wider response.

I’ve been following the latest NBA free agent rumors and pretty much every other sentence on ESPN is “clearing cap space.” I certainly remember a lot of talk about “cap space” going back to 2008 when teams started drooling over LeBron’s availability in 2010. But I don’t recall much talk about it before then. If memory serves, in the 1990s, people tended to talk about “blockbuster trades” more.

I have several hypotheses to help explain this observation:

1) I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m just more tuned into NBA post-2008, but I kind of doubt it. I feel less tuned in to the NBA than I was 1990-2002.

2) It’s a media effect. Maybe cap space was always a big issue, but because ESPN and its ilk have created a bigger “newshole” for sports coverage, they can cover acquisitions issues more closely. It seems like Bill Simmons and others responded to/created market demand for this sort of trade and signing speculation.

3) It’s a product of the superstar era. The modern game relies on superstars to a greater extent and so free agent signings have become more important means by which teams improve. Thus, “freeing cap space” to sign free agent has become a more common tactic.

4) NBA rules have changed. Here, I’m way out of my depth. Have there been changes to the regulations surrounding acquisitions that have made free agent signings more desirable?